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BeiGene Puts Up $10M to Use Ambrx’s Drug Development Technology

Xconomy San Diego — 

Chinese pharma company BeiGene has agreed to pay Ambrx $10 million upfront to experiment with technology the biotech has developed in a bid accelerate BeiGene’s search for new protein drugs for cancer treatment.

Ambrx says its technology is able to incorporate “non-natural” amino acids into cells like E. coli and CHO, two cell lines commonly used for protein production. BeiGene (NASDAQ: BGNE) sees that method of modifying proteins as a way to bolster its drug development efforts, the company said in a statement Wednesday.

La Jolla, CA-based Ambrx was founded in 2003, one of the slew of biotechs launched by serial entrepreneur and renowned chemist Peter Schultz, now president and CEO of Scripps Research. After raising more than $106 million from venture investors, the company in 2014 looked to raise as much as $86 million in an IPO, but ended up withdrawing its filing, citing market conditions.

In 2015, Ambrx was acquired by a consortium of Chinese investors, including Fosun Pharma, private equity firm Hopu Investments, China Everbright, and WuXi PharmaTech. At the time of the acquisition, Ambrx named Tiecheng (Alex) Qiao as CEO and promoted Feng Tian, vice president of science and technology, to head R&D as the company’s first chief science officer. Tian, who completed his postdoctoral training in Schultz’s group at Scripps, has been with the Ambrx since 2004.

Qiao left the company in 2018; Tian succeeded him as CEO in June.

“We believe that by incorporating this site-specific conjugation technology, we can further broaden BeiGene’s portfolio of next-generation biologics,” said BeiGene founder, chairman, and CEO John Oyler in the statement.

The agreement includes the potential for up to $19 million more in upfront payments if BeiGene decides to do additional research using the technology, and it makes Ambrx eligible for up to $446 million in milestone payments if BeiGene ends up moving any drug candidates along based on what it discovers using Ambrx’s technology. BeiGene keeps the rights to anything it develops out of the collaboration.

It’s far from Ambrx’s first biopharma collaboration: Ambrx also has partnerships with Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY), Japan’s Astellas, and Elanco (NYSE: ELAN), the animal health company that Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY) spun off in February. Its pipeline includes anti-cancer compounds as well as candidates it is testing as treatments for liver disease and heart failure.

Ambrx has partnered on ARX788, an enhanced antibody drug it is testing as a treatment for breast and stomach cancers, with Zhejiang Medicine, which has commercial rights to the drug in China.